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Hurricane Wilma tears into Mexico's resorts

Hurricane Wilma tears into heart of Mexico's resorts

CANCUN, Mexico: Hurricane Wilma tore into the heart of Mexico's Caribbean resort strip yesterday, trapping thousands of frightened tourists in darkened shelters pounded by torrential rains and shrieking winds.

The eye of the mammoth storm, which had already killed 13 people, moved over Cozumel Island and was expected to pound the area for two days, raising the possibility of catastrophic damage, before curling around Cuba and sprinting toward Florida.

With 225 kph winds, it shattered windows and downed trees that crushed cars. Pay phones jutted from waist-deep floodwaters in the famed hotel zone.

Hotels being used as shelters pushed furniture up against windows that weren't boarded up, and some people at shelters slept under plastic sheeting to protect dripping roofs. Power was cut to most of the region before the storm as a precaution.

"Tin roofing is flying through the air everywhere. Palm trees are falling down. Signs are in the air, and cables are snapping," Julio Torres told The Associated Press by telephone from the Red Cross office in Cozumel.

"Not even emergency vehicles have been able to go out on the streets because the winds are too strong."

The centre of the vast storm was projected to stay over the resort-dotted tip of the Yucatan Peninsula until Sunday.

"It's going to be a long couple of days here for the Yucatan Peninsula," said Max Mayfield, director of the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami.

At the same time, Wilma was pounding the western tip of Cuba, where the government evacuated nearly 370,000 people. Forecasters said Wilma could bring as much as 40 inches of rain in parts of Cuba.

The slow-moving storm, inching along at 5 mph was expected to slam Monday into Florida, where emergency officials on Friday issued the first evacuation orders for the mainland. Residents of the Florida Keys were asked to start leaving two days ago.

Forecasters said it would likely weaken over land.

Officials said about 20,000 tourists were at shelters and hotels on the mainland south of Cancun, and an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 in Cancun itself.

Mexico's civil defence chief, Carmen Segura, assured their relatives that "their families are protected as they should be."

Instead of luxury hotel suites overlooking a turquoise sea, many tourists found themselves sleeping on the floor of hotel ballrooms, schools and gymnasiums reeking of sweat because there was no power or air conditioning.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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